Claustrophobic but Joyous and Free

I just watched an exuberant, freeing kind of Youtube video and thought I’d share it here for anyone feeling, perhaps, a little suffocated today…(by anything really, it doesn’t have to be lack of air. For instance I’ve felt suffocated by things as various as failure, fat, saunas, speaking up in front of strangers, and a hyper-inflated sense of responsibility. Really, so many things can suck up available oxygen.)

Fear is usually involved, at least for me.

Well, here’s an example of people facing into some big fear and people helping them do it. The Marine Discovery Dive is an event out of Malaysia that takes a group of physically disabled people scuba diving every year in order to free them from the usual limits placed on not only their bodies, but their minds and spirits as well (which, let’s face it, is where the most severe disabling usually takes place.) There’s a lot, a LOT, of joy in this. Watch and breathe:

It reminds me of a hospice patient I once worked with who was dying from a disease similar to ALS (I can’t remember the name now) which was relentlessly shutting down his autonomic nervous system. As he felt it progressing, and knowing full well where it was headed…he was a highly intelligent man…he sometimes felt like he was being slowly buried alive inside his own body. Not a pleasant sensation by all accounts.

Well, we had a counselor working for the hospice at the time who’d been learning about different kinds of “energy” work for lack of a better term. In any case, she tried it out on this patient and lo and behold, it actually helped alleviate the growing sense of claustrophobia he was struggling with so, needless to say, he became very attached to the treatment.

Fast forward a couple months and said counselor, preparing to leave for two weeks of vacation, asked me if I’d take over while she was gone. I was reluctant because, frankly, what was involved felt a little strange and embarrassing to me. However, when the patient started adding his own earnest entreaties…well, who can say no in the face of that kind of raw need?

Which is how I found myself one afternoon standing over the body of said patient where he was reclining in…well…a recliner, eyes closed. I was waving my arms back and forth over him in the prescribed manner feeling very much like a five year old solemnly pretending to be an ocean tide. Awkward? Yes. Lame? Felt like it to me.

And yet, and yet. He responded to it in spite of my resistance. He gradually, visibly relaxed, the fear lines in his face smoothing, the tension in his body loosening to eventually disappear. There was a look of profound peace that settled over him and even I, Little Miss Judge-It-All, could eventually feel a kind of tactile, tangible silence in the room.

It wound up being a pretty profound experience for me (not that I remotely mattered at the time but, still, it was nice to think about afterwards.) The whole thing wound up wreaking havoc on a set of mental limits I was tenderly suckling without even realizing it, while simultaneously opening me up to the possibility of more possibilities. (Why in the world that seemed so threatening is a mystery, but there you have it.)

What I took away from that experience, and what I take away again from watching the blossoming transformation in the faces of the disabled divers in the video, is that much of the potential for real freedom and joy…the genuine article…lies inside our own minds. My patient’s physical disease didn’t go away but the way he was experiencing it completely changed for a little while. And neither did the disability of any of these divers go away and yet, they all seemed to feel liberated…transformed…in spite of the limits. Maybe it wasn’t a permanent transformation but it was certainly a start, and God only knows what a start can lead to. I’ve seen entire sidewalks…parking lots even…eventually overgrown from a single, tiny weed starting in a single, tiny crack.

So I know…I can feel it…that even though the people in this video are exploring frontiers (disability, like dying, is very much a frontier to me) that I haven’t visited yet myself, it doesn’t mean the things they’re learning aren’t supremely important for me to learn too.

Which is why I write it down here under the guise of sharing it with you. Really, I suspect I’m just archiving it where I can find it again, but if you get something out of it, too? All the better. Have at it, my friends. I think there’s more than enough to go around.

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